Sunday, May 08, 2005

Bleneau Gwent

Backword Dave Weeden thinks the election of the independent Peter Law in Bleneau Gwent is good. Chris Brooke disagrees. My, rather more lengthy than you'd get for tuppence, tuppence worth: if there's anything wrong with the imposition of an external all-women shortlist, it's because it's external or because the potential candidates on it are crap. If we're about being gender-blind, then the fact that the shortlist is full of women is irrelevant and so what matters is either that the local party didn't get to choose, or that the potential candidates are not good potential candidates. The local party choice argument was not the one explicitly made by Peter Law - his objection was that it was an all-women shortlist, not that it was an external shortlist - and in a constituency which has traditionally had candidates shipped in from outside, it wouldn't be very convincing.

This leaves the 'potential candidates are all crap' argument as an argument against all-women shortlists. I'm assuming that Peter Law's objection wasn't that the specific members of this all-women shortlist were all crap, because if that's the case, it's unclear why he inveighed against all-women shortlists in general, rather than this particular crap one. It might be argued that the potential candidates are not good potential candidates because the deliberate policy of creating all-women shortlists has meant scraping the bottom of the barrel, but this is a bad argument. Assuming that political aptitude is roughly equally distributed across genders, since women are currently under-represented in parliament, if anything, there ought to be a larger reserve of highly talented female potential parliamentarians than of men. The alternative to believing that political aptitude is roughly equally distributed across the population, which would justify the barrel-scraping claim, would seem to be the belief that women are generally crap as MPs. I assume this is an unacceptable sexist belief, and so Peter Law's candidacy and subsequent election, by his statements, is sexist and unacceptable.


Phil said...

It might be argued that the potential candidates are not good potential candidates because the deliberate policy of creating all-women shortlists has meant scraping the bottom of the barrel, but this is a bad argument.

I think you're confusing 'is' and 'ought'. I can't see any good reason to assume there's any shortage of socialist Labour women around BG; if the centrally-imposed all-women shortlist had thrown up one such, Law's candidacy would have been seen as sexist sour grapes and no more. The fact that it didn't is significant. Backword Dave makes one bad point and two good ones:

right now, all-women lists are a proxy from the centre, and a way to exclude bolshy but appealing candidates. They also patronise women, by assuming that they can’t compete on a level field. Not to mention local Labour selectors by implicitly labelling them as “misogynist”

Chris of the Stoa disposed of Dave's second sentence, but I think the first and third stand: it's not a matter of opposing all-women shortlists on principle, but of opposing these all-women shortlists, imposed at this time and for these reasons. That, at any rate, is the only way I can see to make sense of the massive support Law has gained on the Left outside Blaenau Gwent.

Rob Jubb said...


it is a bad argument, because it's not the argument that you think it is. The argument you think it is this:

the specific members of this all-women shortlist were all crap

but I, perhaps uncharitably, assumed that this is not Peter Law's objection, because he inveighed against all-women shortlists in general.

The passage you quote is meant to be a general argument against all-women shortlists, having dismissed the idea that a) it's anything to do with the loss of local party autonomy and b) it's anything to do with the quality of this particular all-women shortlist, meaning that the two points you raise against have already been considered and dismissed as explanations. I might have read what went on wrong, but limited ancedotal evidence suggests that's not the case (as does Chris Brooke's citing of the numbers of female Labour MPs from welsh constituencies: why haven't there been more, if the local parties aren't sexist?)

On Backword Dave's reasons: the first isn't a complaint, because that was never (as much of) a problem with external male candidates; the second begs the question, because what's at issue is whether the field is level; as does the third (it's only patronising to label someone misogynist if in fact they are not).

Anonymous said...

Oh come on!

It's very simple, notwithstanding the fact that you're exactly right in what you've said in the particular instance you quote and so there's little need for such intellectual justification: ignoring the irrefutable fact that discrimination will never be erased, a belief system that propagates the undesirability of discrimination cannot use the same to then attempt to counter that which it seeks to do away with.

It's self-defeating (patently) and can hardly be said to be moving towards the ideal to which it allegedly aspires. Other simpler arguments e.g. like begets like, simply reinforce this.

Rob Jubb said...


it seems to me you make three points: that discrimination is ineliminable, and so we should just live with it, that all women-shortlists are discriminatory, so if discrimination is bad, so are they, and that like begets like. Firstly, I'm not defending all women-shortlists, merely pointing out that Peter Law's candidacy was sexist. Secondly, if discrimination is ineliminable and so acceptable, there's nothing wrong with all-women shortlists either. Thirdly, all-women shortlists might be discriminatory in form, but not in content: that is, presumably what's wrong with discrimination is two things, that people are not given a fair chance, and that it selects badly. Given that men have the chance to become Labour candidates for other seats, and the (seriously) objectionable thing would be being denied the chance of becoming a (Labour) MP at all, a restricted use of all-women shortlists in order to level the playing field would be fine. As for the bad selection argument - in the abstract at least - see the post itself. Fourthly, I fail to see how (limited) restrictions on shortlists is, if local Labour parties are indeed misogynist, in fact discrimination, rather than ensuring that the playing field (or whatever metaphor you want) is level. It would not be discrimination to ensure that rather than demanding that candidates with irrelevant feature x were twice as well qualified as candidates without it, candidates were assessed solely on the basis of their qualifications: if indeed gender is operating in this way in some local Labour parties, then this would hardly be discrimination. These considerations ought to dismiss the claim that two alike things are occuring (not that I'm necessarily endorsing the like begets like claim either).

Dave Heasman said...

It seems to me that two irreconcilible principles are clashing here - Law is likely to be misogynistic, but 19 000 people voted for him, so if he didn't stand the voters of BG would be deprived of voting for someone they wanted to, and who wanted to, represent them.

I'm afraid I view the latter as a bigger misdeed than the former.

And it's not as if Labour hasn't a history of parachuting unwanted candidates into constituencies - my recollection goes back to Patrick Gordon Walker in Leyton in 1964.

And I wish Liz Davies had stood as an independent in Leeds all those years ago when the Millbank tossers tried to do the same thing to her.

Rupert van den Broek said...

I enjoyed reading the comments posted and my small addition to them would be to note that it is of course completely fair to have all-women shortlists just as it is fair to have all-male shortlists. However, when the shortlists are manipulated in such a way that prevents any perfectly qualified political candidate from running purely on the basis of their gender then there is a disceprepancy.

I haven't seen any exact quotes from Peter Law and in the Times i'm currently reading there is only a small side column telling me that 20 MPs could lose their job over voting for him when he ran as an independent against the labour party in protest against the lists.

So i'd have to say that if he was protesting against the policy on the basis of its inbuilt discrimination then he is in the right. If he is complaining about the fact an all women shortlist could exist then he is very much in the wrong.